Mickey Wilder of Tucson, Arizona is an antiques dealers who sells both from bricks-and-mortar shops as well as electronically on the internet. But Wilder is also a collector and the most unusual things she collects are Victorian hatpins.
One of the chief advantages of collecting items as small as hatpins, according to Wilder, is that even a collection of hundreds of pieces will take up so little space. For example, Wilder’s collection of several hundred Victorian and vintage hatpins sits on an antique tallboy dresser, with the hatpins poked in groups into nearly a dozen porcelain hatpin holders.
Wilder said she got her start collecting hatpins when her husband gave her one that had belonged to his grandmother.
“I kept it in a small shadow box table, but it looked very lonely,” she noted. “When a neighbor died, I purchased many wonderful items from the estate, two of which were hatpin holders.”
Those hatpin holders seemingly triggered a collecting impulse in Wilder because she said she knew they simply had to be filled.
“For awhile I would look for a nice holder, buy it and then fill it with hatpins,” Wilder pointed out. “I had a rule that I wouldn’t buy a new holder until the previous one was filled. But that rule didn’t last too long.”
Most of Wilder’s hatpin holders can carry between six and a dozen hatpins, so a large collection can be condensed into a small area.
The most special hatpins in her collection, Wilder maintained, are the Victorian examples.
“The craftsmanship and stylization on the Victorian hatpins are superb,” Wilder said. “There was a huge variety of styles manufactured during the Victorian period — from a hatpin with a plain glass drop on the end to moleskin animal heads with glass eyes and sterling silver monkeys with rubies for eyes.”
Wilder noted that even during the mourning period after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, hatpins still were in style, especially jet black examples.
Hatpins are becoming more and more desirable to collectors, Wilder pointed out, and also harder and harder to find.
“Some collectors limit themselves to only sterling silver hatpins or hand-painted ones or perhaps ones with jewels or rhinestones,” she said. “I don’t limit myself — I buy what I like. Some are even newer ones, like from the 1950s, and are shorter in length.”
Most of the Victorian hatpins have pointed shafts that are eight or nine inches long in order to pass through the large hats and masses of hair favored by women at the time. Newer vintage hatpins often are much shorter — with shafts of about four inches long. Collectors also may find older hatpins that have had their shafts shortened.
Wilder noted that collectors often can find a hatpin at mall shops or from out-of-town dealers at shows, but cautioned that at such places one should be prepared to pay top dollar.
“Fine hatpins can bring hundreds of dollars for something special,” Wilder said, citing sterling silver, rhinestone covered and jeweled examples.
And as she filled out her hatpin collection, Wilder began branching out into collecting stickpins.
“There are many really nice stickpins available in gold and with semi-precious stones.” she said. “I’ve found that small hand-painted salt shakers display stickpins well since stickpin holders are almost impossible to find.”
While Wilder hasn’t sold any hatpins from her collection yet, she does buy and sell a wide variety of antiques, as well as Limoges porcelain. She began selling French porcelain on the internet several years ago and also maintains space in a Tucson antique shop where she offers old handcrafted Taxo Mexican jewelry, costume jewelry, sterling silver pieces, small furniture and vanity items like compacts, pill boxes and vintage purses.
“I also have some of my old hatpin holders in the shop and have sold some of them,” Wilder adds. “As with any collection, I like to upgrade. When I find a nice hatpin holder — whether it be Limoges, Nippon, R.S. Prussia or sterling, I’ll enjoy it for awhile, have a brief affair with it, and then move on.”